Singing Our Way Back To Patriotism And National Unity
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Join us along with our Hispanic- American Friends to Sing God Bless America
How’s this for starters. I am a very patriotic American, and I love our country. Having said that I’m fairly sure that many of you are asking yourselves, “Where’s this guy coming from?” “Is he a right wing bald, skin- head conservative because a left wing, hairy head liberal would never say that?” “He must be an old timer for patriotism is fast fading in our country” or “I should shut down on this post for the subject matter doesn’t interest me.”
I both understand and expect such reactions. After all, it’s no secret that heart- felt patriotism began to fade away from the public square about a half a century ago, and current manifestations of it are hard to find, let alone mentioned. Also, what has been forgotten is that most Americans have never felt the powerful, thrilling and unifying factor that patriotism brings to a nation, so how can they appreciate it? If you haven’t experienced it then it’s difficult to embrace its enormous significance. In a sense- and this is not cornpone- it’s like never having experienced love, so you don’t know what you’re missing. In addition, the older folks, from disuse, are finding it a fading memory. From the American Revolution and up until about a half a century ago, patriotism was an essential part of the glue that held our country together and the source of our national strength which made us the world’s freest and dominant power.
When I, as the son of Italian immigrants, was a kid in elementary school, I remember well when we, on a daily basis, recited, with right hand over heart and chest expanded, the Pledge of Allegiance in the presence of an unfurled flag and the sang God Bless America. Boy, did I feel proud to be an American. I also remember well how we were reminded by our parents and teachers what a great country we live in, to be proud of it, and how it is our duty to support and protect it.
The reasons for the waning of patriotism are multiple, complex, intertwined and not the subject of this commentary, but I’ll briefly describe some aspects of it. As I said, beginning in the 60’s the value and expression of patriotism began its decline. All segments of our country were crossed- infected by this downgrading of America. Today, the love of country is, in certain intellectual circles, heavily down-played being replaced with the concept of international brotherhood. For example, there are advocates who propose that our Constitution be shredded and replaced with an international legal system.
We also had the Korean and Vietnam wars which were highly effective patriotism killers. Then came the explosion of modern technology which is the enemy of tradition and religion, the historic bricks of the foundation of American patriotism. Speaking about religion, there is an unquestionable connection between religion and patriotism. The wise Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, while touring America in the mid- nineteenth century, observed how religion played a vital role in the vigorous spirit of its people. Technology and extensive immigration teamed up to create increased fragmentation of our culture where commonality of national values is disappearing being replaced by many Americas. Family life, the fundamental foundation of American strength, is now splintered and wears many faces.
Few today would recommend that we return to the patriotic fervor of the American Revolution patriots. Take, for example, Patrick Henry who proudly declared, “Give me liberty or give me death” or when Nathan Hale, just before his hanging by the British, proudly proclaimed, “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” They lived in different times where the stakes were as high as can be, and it was the strength of patriotism that won the day. Today, if a member of Congress stood up in the hallowed legislative chambers and declared, “Give me liberty or give me death” he-she would immediately be escorted by the security guards to the nearest mental institution and, you can be sure, declared mentally incapable of performing his-her duty. If not , the voters would certainly throw them out!
The pervasiveness of our loss of feelings of patriotism makes it almost impossible to make it flourish again unless there is a continuous barrage of 9/11, cyberspace or other attacks on us. (It did momentarily flourish after 9/11. Also, the churches were almost filled to capacity). To repeat, there is no obvious national sense of this need which is compounded by a puzzling lack of effective leaders to support it. But I have an idea based on my personal experiences which may, if implemented, rapidly and effectively unite us despite the power of the anti-patriotism trend. IT’S SINGING!!
Singing can evoke strong heartfelt feelings of melancholy such as the loss of a loved one expressed in Frank Sinatra ballads to the uplifting Battle Hymn of the Republic which can fire up the body’s excitatory hormones. One only needs to join in or observe enthusiastic audiences singing along with popular singers from the old days to modern day Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga and Rap concerts. I don’t know whether they sing at electronic dancing raves gatherings but they should. Interestingly enough, music, is currently undergoing scientific evaluation and is now considered to be a powerful form of natural language communication. Music is infectious like a virulent flu virus which spreads rapidly.
Many of you are too young to remember, Kate Smith, a robust woman with a robust voice. She would sing The Star Spangled Banner before each game of the professional hockey team, The Philadelphia Flyers. The crowd went bananas filling the stadium with feelings of victory, and the Flyers, bolstered by this infectious patriotic energy, became a thrilling success story and went on to win the Stanley Cup! Such is the power of singing and song.
Let’s turn the clock ahead to Super Bowl halftime shows. In 1991 Whitney Houston, also with a robust voice, sang the Star Spangled Banner. The fans also went bananas with feelings of patriotism and felt that their team had the strength to win. It was re-released after the 9/11 attacks and, as a single, made it to the Top Ten in America. (It also hit #5 in Canada which is something to think about). But that was a long time ago. Today, at the Super Bowl, The Star Spangled Banner is now often sung by weak, puny voices. And guess what? The crowds don’t go bananas with feelings of vibrant patriotism but their energy is focused on their team.
Historically, singing can even fuel revolutions. In the nineteenth century Italian operatic composer, Giuseppe Verdi, composed the opera, Nabucco, in which the captivated Jews sang Va Pensiero, a moving choral song expressing their longing for liberation and freedom. At that time, Italy was under the control of the Austrians. The song, like the flu virus, spread like wildfire throughout Italy leading to the Risorgimento, the nationalistic movement of liberation that drove the Austrians from Italy and established the country’s independence.
So here’s what this son of Italian immigrants proposes: It would be impossible to find leadership from the “top” to bring back patriotism. It simply ain’t there. Our national decrapinista shovels alone aren’t nearly big enough to resuscitate patriotism. The movement must be born with multiple local groups and, twitter-like, become viral. (The extremely successful Tea party, whether you agree with its mission or not, is an example to of a recent successful “viral” movement which began locally). I propose the establishment of the Singing Club of America where leaders at the community level encourage singing of patriotic songs at schools, churches and wherever to establish the organizational foundation of the movement. (A caveat: singing The Star Spangled Banner, because of its high notes, may be more difficult for some than the equally inspiring God Bless America. Sing both? It’s your decision).
Linda Chavez is the head of the Center for Equal Opportunity. She cited a report from the Pew Hispanic Center on the feelings of Hispanics about being American and also about America, itself. The Hispanic population is estimated to be 50 million, our largest minority group. Only 8% of recent immigrants, 35% of second generation and 48% of third generation Hispanics identify themselves as being primarily American. Ms. Chavez adds that the recent explosion of faulty government policies requiring Hispanics to identify themselves as Hispanic by checking a “Hispanic” box instead of an “American” one, when applying for jobs, mortgages, college loans and bank loans, among others, necessarily creates an understandable mindset that they are not part of the American mainstream.
But there is good news! Overall, the Pew study reports that 50% of Hispanics share the traditional American values that hard work is essential for a successful life. For Hispanics earning more than $70,000 annually, 70% of them agree with this.
I would strongly urge that a singing club of Hispanic and non-Hispanic Americans be initiated by leaders of both sides. Wouldn’t that be interesting!
There is little doubt that singing our way back to a proud and strong patriotic America can become a beautiful reality. I’m proud to announce the first Singing Club of America established by my Spanish speaking Italian-American son, Stephen, and his beautiful patriotic wife, the former Norma DeDios, who was born in San Luis Potesi, Mexico. Come visit, hear what we have to say and sing God Bless America along with us at Casa DeFelice.
God Bless America was first composed in 1918 by Irving Berlin. He and his family fled Communist Russia, one of many immigrant families who made this country stronger and more secure by infusing more positive energy into the life of America. (Mr. Berlin became our country’s most prolific and beloved song writer who, though born of Jewish parents, composed White Christmas)!
The reason why he both wrote and gave the title to this song was due to his strong mom’s influence. She had an immense love and respect for our country and would frequently say to him and others, “God bless America.” It was 20 years later that the song became a big hit and part of the American culture when Kate Smith sang it with inspiring patriotic passion on radio.
For those of you who want to brush up on the words and those of you who want to learn about them, the lyrics are as follows:
GOD BLESS AMERICA
God bless America
Land that I love
Stand beside Her and guide Her
Through the night with the light from above.
From the mountains to the prairies
To the ocean white with foam,
God bless America, my home sweet home
God bless America, my home sweet home